U.S. President Donald Trump will encourage Eastern European leaders who are wary about their dependence on Russian energy to take advantage of newly available supplies of U.S. natural gas when he visits Poland on July 6, White House officials say.
In recent years, Moscow has cut off gas shipments during pricing disputes with neighboring countries in winter months, prompting a drive in the region to seek out more secure sources of energy.
The United States recently began shipping liquefied gas to Poland for the first time, and Trump will tell allies in Poland that he wants to make it as easy as possible for U.S. companies to ship more gas to Central and Eastern Europe, the White House officials said.
While in Poland, Trump will be attending the "Three Seas" summit -- so named because several of its members border the Adriatic, Baltic, and Black seas.
Among the aims of the Three Seas project is to expand regional energy infrastructure, including liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) import terminals and gas pipelines. Members of the initiative include Poland, Austria, Hungary, and Russia's neighbors Latvia and Estonia.
The United States is in a position to start aggressively marketing gas exports to Europe because of its "fracking revolution," which has made supplies of gas plentiful and cheap.
After decades of consuming nearly all of the energy it produced, the United States is now expected to become the world's third-largest exporter of gas by 2020.
Trump last week proclaimed that a "golden era" of U.S. energy production will enable the country to develop a policy of "energy dominance" through exports to Europe and Asia.
But his ambitions in the European market run headlong into Russia, which relies heavily on oil and gas exports there to fuel its economy and generate government revenues.
Analysts say Moscow will be greatly concerned about any move by the United States to cut into its export markets in Eastern Europe, where it has dominated for decades.
While Trump has talked about wanting to improve relations with Russia, some Republican lawmakers in Congress would like to see him take a hard line against Russia on energy because of Moscow's aggression in Ukraine and alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election.
"It undermines the strategies of [Russian President Vladimir Putin] and other strongmen who are trying to use the light switch as an element of strategic offense," said Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"In many ways, the gas exports by the U.S. is the most threatening U.S. policy to Russia," Michal Baranowski, a director at the German Marshall Fund think tank, told Reuters.
Cheniere Energy Inc, which opened the first U.S. gas-export terminal last year, delivered its first cargo to Poland last month.
A second American energy exporter that is hoping to tap into the European market is Tellurian, which recently told Reuters that it hoped to snap up contracts to supply gas to Poland after Warsaw's existing contracts with Russia's Gazprom expire in 2022.
Some analysts are doubtful about U.S. ambitions to supply the European market, however, as a glut of gas in world markets has been depressing prices and making it difficult to turn a profit exporting liquefied natural gas.
Russia has the advantage of lower costs in Europe because of its close proximity and pipeline connections. But analysts say concerns about security may ultimately overcome that advantage.
"Europe is going to be the great competitive arena between Russian gas and [LNG]," Daniel Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning oil historian, told Reuters.
Any move by the United States to expand in the European gas market also could run up against opposition in Germany and other European countries involved in building a new pipeline to pump Russian gas to Germany through the Baltic Sea.
Germany's foreign minister last month questioned whether U.S. ambitions to export gas weren't behind the U.S. Senate's move to include a provision in its Russian sanctions bill that would penalize European firms involved with that pipeline, known as Nord Stream 2.
The U.S. State Department has maintained that Nord Stream 2 is undesirable because it would make Europe more vulnerable and dependent on Russia.
With reporting by AP and Reuters